Battle of the Brands: Pepsi vs. Coke Marketing Strategies

There’s an age-old question we’ve all been asked: Pepsi or Coke? The public strongly prefers one or the other; you generally won’t find someone who enjoys both. Coke was the first soda ever created back in 1886. Then, in 1898, a rivalry that would span decades was born as soon as Pepsi hit the market. 

Today, each brand has a strong and distinct presence thanks to individual marketing strategies that make them obviously different from one another.

In general, Coke is known for promoting emotional attachment through its campaigns. They launched the “Share a Coke” campaign that sold cans of Coke with the most common first names printed on the label. This urged consumers to find bottles with names of loved ones to share. The campaign was so successful, they expanded the number of names from 250 to 1000 by the end.

On the other hand, Pepsi is widely known for celebrity endorsements, and they don’t put as strong of an emphasis on sentimental value. Their first celebrity ad was in 1984 which included Michael Jackson dancing in the streets with a group of young kids. The slogan used at the end of the commercial said, “the choice of a new generation”, ultimately introducing Pepsi as the soft drink for young audiences.

While these major conglomerates have other brands underneath them, the marketing rivalry stays at the top between the parent brands fighting to become the world’s favorite soft drink. 

The History Behind Two of the Most Famous Brands

Coke

Coke got its start in the early 1800s when a pharmacist by the name of Dr. John S. Pemberton created its original flavored syrup. Once the syrup was made, he took it to a local pharmacy and mixed it with carbonated water. That exact moment was the creation of what would become one of the world’s most beloved soft drinks. 

Back then, Coke was the first to expand internationally. In 1915 they went on to open a manufacturing plant in the Philippines. Later, in the 1920s, they began expanding their marketing reach into Europe. Australia and South Africa followed behind in the ‘30s. 

Additionally, the famous red and white Coca Cola logo was created in the late 1940s. However, the Coca Cola script that was already being used came from Dr. Pemberton’s bookkeeper, Frank M. Robinson. 

Pepsi

Pepsi was also created in a pharmacy. This time by a man named Caleb Davis Bradham. He owned a pharmacy in New Bern, North Carolina which would later become the birthplace of Pepsi-Cola. At the time, Coke had already been on the market for 12 years. After seeing the positive response from his Pepsi creation, Bradham dropped everything and solely focused on building his new company.

The company went on to sell 7,968 gallons of Pepsi syrup in its first year of existence. Within two years, Pepsi sold another 19,848 gallons of syrup. By this point, Pepsi was seen as a fierce competitor within the beverage industry. Sadly, this upward trend didn’t last long. The Great Depression caused Pepsi to file for bankruptcy twice, once in 1923 and again in 1931, due to sugar shortages. 

Eventually, the company got back on its feet thanks to major business changes such as a new headquarters and company president. To proactively avoid another bankruptcy, Pepsi purchased a sugar plantation in Cuba in case of another sugar shortage. During this time, they also put out a new red, white, and blue logo meant to evoke feelings of patriotism and show support toward American troops. 

The Differences in Coke vs. Pepsi’s Marketing Techniques

Coke

One of Coke’s first marketing efforts included coupons promoting free product samples. They also distributed promotional items that had the brand’s logo to participating pharmacies. 

From there, they focused on designing a unique Coke bottle that could easily be recognized by consumers. Supposedly, the bottle was so distinctive, it could even be recognized in the dark

Related: Learn why distinctive features, like Coke’s unique bottle, are crucial for the success of your brand’s personality.

Nowadays, Coke’s brand personality is known for being positive, simple, and classic. They focus on campaign materials that can be adapted to markets across the world, like the “Share A Coke” campaign. 

It’s also apparent throughout Coke’s marketing efforts that they value human connection and creating branded experiences for consumers, which is especially important for younger generations. Their brand tone and voice is friendly and happy, encouraging consumers to feel joy. In the majority of their commercials, Coke doesn’t focus on the features of the soda itself. Rather, they focus on storytelling and facial expressions to resonate with audiences through emotion. 

Pepsi

Since the beginning, Pepsi has advertised itself as exhilarating and invigorating – and even aid in digestion! Pepsi aimed at being the new soda on the block, trying to subtly suggest that Coke was outdated and for older consumers. Over the decades, they used catchy slogans such as “Be sociable, have a Pepsi” and “You’ve got a lot to live. Pepsi’s got a lot to give” to drive this idea even further. 

Although Coke has used a few celebrity endorsements in the past, Pepsi reigns supreme in this department. They’re known for working with high-profile celebrities. In their US campaigns, they’ve worked with the likes of Cindy Crawford, Britney Spears, Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, David Beckham, and Jeff Gordon. In international markets they’ve partnered with; the Spice Girls, Sakis Rouvas, Priyanka Chopra, and Kylie Minogue as a few examples.

Their brand personality is seen as edgy, exciting, fresh, and young. They tend to focus on demonstrating Pepsi’s crisp, refreshing taste in their commercials. For example, you’ll often see someone taking their first sip of Pepsi and letting out a satisfying “ah”.

A Look at Coke and Pepsi’s Data

In the battle between Coke versus Pepsi, there are many factors to consider when choosing a winner. 

Research shows consumers see Coke as honest, wholesome, cheerful, and down-to-earth. The brand is also seen as more reliable and imaginative compared to its rival. In contrast, Pepsi has a younger fanbase and is seen by its audience as young, trendy, and edgier, compared to Coke. 

In the past five years, Coke has gained 22.13% of market shares, while Pepsi has gained 49.20%. Pepsi also had a higher revenue at $65 billion, while Coke was at about half the amount with $32 billion. Interestingly, a significant amount of Pepsi’s higher numbers also comes from the 22 brands they own. Some include Frito-Lay, Tostitos, Cheetos, Mountain Dew, Kevita, Naked, and several more. Note that Pepsi owns food brands – while Coke owns beverage brands only, like Fanta, Dasani, Sprite, Smartwater, and so on.

On the other hand, it’s proven that Coke is more internationally known than Pepsi. The brand dominates in South America, Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Europe. We know both companies are household names – but Coke has a bigger brand presence across the globe, whereas Pepsi only dominates North America. 

So, Who is the Winner? 

Basically, both companies can be seen as the champion depending on the factor taken into account. Whether it’s historically, by revenue, marketing strategy, and so on. We believe at the end of the day it all comes down to one thing – taste preference. 

So tell us, are you team Pepsi or Coke?